A troublesome water issue raised its ugly head Wednesday night as a conditional-use permit (CUP) application by the Jewett Lake Association came before the Otter Tail County Planning Commission for the first time since 2011.
With a GoToMeeting crowd of approximately 50 people following along via an interactive livestream, the commission heard comments from both Jewett and Long Lake residents, some heated but most thoughtful and measured, as well as the opinions of commission members and county staff.
Fielding the Jewett Lake CUP application as the third and final item of a 2½ hour meeting, the commission voted unanimously in favor of a motion by commission member David Trites to deny it.
Unlike the 2011 CUP request which sought an increase in the operating time of the pipe and flow, Wednesday’s application asked that a valve controlling water flow from Jewett into neighboring Long Lake through a 15-inch pipe remain open continuously to relieve high-water concerns.
The pipe and the valve were seen as a solution to high-water problems by the county board 21 years ago. According to Otter Tail County Land and Resource Management Director Chris LeClair, the county issued a conditional-use permit in 1999 for a control valve that was designed to lower the water level on Jewett Lake.
A study conducted by Interstate Engineering in 2010 concluded the operation policy had prevented Jewett Lake from being lowered to its ordinary high-water level. The study also concluded that the effects of opening the valve were minor on Long Lake’s water levels. The effects of leaving the valve closed and having the natural waterway blocked had substantial effects on Jewett Lake. The study also found that leaving the valve open permanently would have even lower flow rates to Long Lake.
“I really think we would be irresponsible if we were to take all controls off this valve,” Trites said. “The conditional-use solution that has been in place since 1999 has really worked well most of the time. According to the information we were given 80% of the time the valve is open until 2017. When the outlet was obstructed the water-level problem grew greater. Since that time the valve hasn’t been open a lot. It is open now. The removal of the obstruction appears to have contributed to a dramatic reduction in water level on Long Lake — 15 inches — and the reopening of the valve has contributed to a reduction on Jewett of at least 10 inches.”
Trites told the commission that approval of Jewett Lake’s CUP request could reasonably be expected to add some additional water on Long Lake, but it is not known how much.
“We do not know what adverse effects would be imposed on Long Lake residents if we took all controls off the valve,” Trites said, adding additional data on the impact of a continuously open valve is really needed.
Ron Hardyman had 5 inches of water in the crawl space beneath his Long Lake home this summer. He estimated the present level of Long Lake is comparable to what is in just after the spring ice melts.
Hardyman is a past president of the Long Lake Association. He considers the problem between lakeshore owners on Jewett and Long to be one neither group can solve. Nor is it a problem the county can adequately address.
From Long Lake the water flows into Reed Creek and is carried to the Pelican River.
Hardyman feels the real problem has been an old dam on Reed Creek controlled by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The dam is considered old and a spillway will be replacing it in time but Hardyman believes there is presently no funding available for the project.
Hardyman is empathetic to Jewett’s problems. He feels farm-field drainage into the lake exacerbates the problems of the spring-fed lake but he pointed out that Long Lake has five inlets of its own and the only one that is controlled is the one from Jewett Lake.
“They tried to do this once before and the county refused to move their problem onto us,” Hardyman said.
It was brought out that the Otter Tail County Highway Department closes and opens the valve between the two lakes. LeClair said he believed it was at the discretion of the county engineer, Chuck Grotte.
LeClair will be bringing the planning commission’s recommendation to the county commissioners’ meeting at 9 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 27, in the Otter Tail County Government Services Center on West Fir Avenue.